This is one of a bunch of photos that have been mouldering on top of my table here in my office for no particular reason. I took ’em ages ago. About 1997, I think. The Glock on the left is my old model 21, the Colt on the right is my old one too, and the spare slide at the bottom is my old .22 converter for the Colt. The rest?
Ah, well, I used to be the Honorary Secretary for a little rifle and pistol club. It was (and is) Caterham and District Rifle Club in Surrey. It’s a typical little gun club, full of history and laughter. Created around the turn of the century, in (I think) 1898, it was one of Lord Roberts’ first rifle clubs created to teach the British population how to use rifles for the defence of the realm. And boy, did it work. Roberts’ initiative led to thousands of men joining little clubs all over England, and they formed the first groups of recruits to Kitchener’s army in 1914/15 when it was realised that the army had to grow to fight on in the Great War.
Our club was like many others in 1914/15. It was full of dangerous gun nuts who liked nothing more than going to a little hut on a hill and shooting in wind and rain. It included local tradesmen, plumbers, carpenters, engineers, bank workers and men who commuted into London to work in insurance. They met and socialised in the local pubs, because CDRC never had a bar. Some of them were local scallywags. But the club gave them a natural meeting place.
In 1916 more than three quarters of the membership of this nice little club was wiped out in a day on the Somme. They had all joined up together. They all died together.
These were the guns which had been collected over the years to help their successors to learn shooting safely in the club. The Walther, top left, was a nice little gun. I never got on with the Vostok in the middle (too light). The Hi-Standard up top right was good, too, but I never quite liked the feel of it. Not in the same league as, say, the old Browning I learned on. The single-shot Webley with the enormously long barrel was very difficult to shoot accurately, but it was popular.
After the first war, people came back to the club. Then, in the Second World War, our members were taken again. This time, thank God, not in the same units, and although we lost our members again, many came back, bearing trophies from all over the world – particularly France, it has to be said (they used to have a fine line in bar decorations, I believe!).
Those men brought back other trophies of war. Many had rifles and pistols which they liberated from Germans. One guy, a friend who shot there, was severely handicapped. The only sport in which he had ever been able to participate on an equal footing with the able, was pistol shooting. Pistol shooting was always a great leveller. He had invested a small fortune in a collection of rare and unique DWM pistols, the ones commonly called Lugers. He had all sorts of them.
Well, all those trophies have been taken now. The Lugers were taken too, even though they were immensely valuable. And so were all these guns shown here. They were handed in to the police, and later disposed of somehow, although since as soon as they were taken by the police they stopped existing on a licence, no one knows what happened to individual weapons. Many were stolen from police stores and were sold on the streets, it is alleged. Certainly I saw cases in the press of police officers and civvies who were being taken to court for those offences. And gun crime is up by some 40%.
There was one great guy I knew at the club. When young, he’d been a tearaway. One day he stole a rifle and some ammo to play with, and not being quite so bright as he’d thought, he was soon arrested and before the beak.
The magistrate looked him up and down and said: “I have two options. I can either send you to Borstal as punishment, or I could give you another punishment. Do you want to know what? It is this. I could let you free from this court today, on the understanding that you will join a rifle club and learn how to use these firearms safely.”
He took the latter course. Norman is a respected member of the community – in fact he’s the Honorary President of the rifle club today.
Which I think goes to show that our predecessors had a lot more sense in the way that they handled miscreants than we do today.
But the happy thing is, I can look at these pictures and remember so many happy times shooting, with friends, with companions, and I can remember the history of that club, and all the other little clubs around the country.
Hope you like the photo, too!